Racial Prejudice and Paternalism in Mass Support for Foreign Aid

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Principal investigator:

Andy Baker

University of Colorado at Boulder

Email: Andy.Baker@colorado.edu

Homepage: http://spot.colorado.edu/~bakerab/

Sample size: 2031

Field period: 2/3/2011-5/23/2011


What motivates mass opinions toward foreign aid in donor country publics? Many advocates of boosting development assistance blame the alleged shortfall in aid on racial resentment among donor publics and, in particular, the purported mass belief that the non-white, foreign recipients of aid are wasteful and undeserving. In contrast, aid skeptics claim that overly generous donor commitments are driven by widespread racial paternalism, whereby the poor recipients of aid are seen as unable to develop without the assistance of white, Western providers. We use a survey experiment of American whites that manipulates the purported race of aid recipients to explore whether either of these contradictory charges is true.


We test hypotheses related to claims that foreign aid support is shaped by racial prejudices:

H1: Prejudice-as-resentment drives Americans' attitudes toward foreign aid.
H2: Prejudice-as-paternalism drives Americans' attitudes toward foreign aid.

Experimental Manipulations

We manipulate race of aid recipients (in conjunction with their place of residence: Cameroon versus Moldova) to test the effect of race on Americans' willingness to support foreign aid. We do this by manipulating the skin color of a recipient family to read darker in some photos and lighter in others.

Focusing on these two countries allows us to hold objective need constant; Moldova is the poorest white-majority country in the world, and Cameroon has a roughly similar GDP per capita. Our prompts thus (truthfully) describe the average family in each country as ""surviving on the US equivalent of $5 per day.""

There is also a control group that receives no mention of a specific country (and no photo) but is still told to think about aid to countries where the average person survives on $5 per day.


Our main dependent variable is the level of support for foreign aid. To measure this, we create an Index of Support for Foreign Aid that is the shared variation of three variables. The first is Preferred aid amount per American, which gauges how much per American per year the respondent thinks the US government should devote to foreign aid. Respondents choose dollar figure ranges (e.g. $20 to $39) after being told that the actual average is $40. The second is Preferred aid amount in treatment country(ies), which measures whether respondents belief aid should increase, decrease (and by how much), or stay the same in the country or countries of their treatment group (Cameroon, Moldova, or poor countries where the average person's income is $5).
The third measures whether a respondent thinks the US has a moral obligation to provide aid, a variable that gauges agreement with the following statement: "The US has a moral obligation to help foreign poor countries."

Summary of Results

We find that American whites are actually more supportive of aid to black Africans than they are to white Eastern Europeans, even when objective need of the recipients is equivalent across the two treatment groups. We show that a prejudicial racial paternalism that underestimates the economic agency of black Africans drives this surprising pattern of behavior. Our findings are some of the first in political science to show that mass racial prejudice may manifest as a seemingly generous paternalism, rather than a strictly uncharitable resentment.


Baker, Andy. Forthcoming. "Race, Paternalism, and Foreign Aid: Evidence from U.S. Public Opinion." American Political Science Review.

Baker, Andy, and Jennifer Fitzgerald. 2011. "Racial Paternalism and Mass Support for Foreign Aid." Paper prepared for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 1-4, Seattle, WA.